When a major sporting event comes to a country, the whole nation wants to celebrate. The Rugby World Cup later this year and Tokyo Olympics 2020 gift the church across Japan with unique opportunities. Japanese people will be looking for ways to celebrate. How can the church be at the centre of the celebrations?
Over the last couple of decades a team of people from the Global Sports movement have been at a variety of Olympics and World Cups, experimenting with creative community engagement.
What is an Open Crowd Festival?
Open Crowd Festivals (also called Community Festivals) is one of these strategies we’ve used—an opportunity for local Christians to run a free celebration in their local community. An Open Crowd is a group of people who genuinely welcome strangers into both their lives and their friendships. It forms when unfamiliar people become connected and a caring community builds. It’s a distinct event in a local community that lasts about three hours.1
At the heart of these festivals are local Christians working together to love and serve their community in a safe and inclusive atmosphere. People can quickly feel as though they belong.
At each Festival we seek to build a culture that shows what God’s kingdom looks like. A place where kindness, hospitality, and generosity are evident. Alongside this is a commitment to it being not a one-off event but part of a long-term transformation strategy.
Who is behind Community Festivals?
Community Festivals were initiated by Fusion International, a Youth and Community Christian organization that began in Australia in 1960. They teamed up with the Global Sports movement in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics. Since then, they have been working together at major sporting events. Their goal—making disciples in all nations for Christ in the world of sport and play. The Global Sports movement makes resources available at:
Why run a Festival?
The power of an Open Crowd Festival is that everyone—but children in particular—are seen and valued for who they are. Strangers quickly become friends. Over three hours people move from disinterest to enjoying community. In this setting we naturally make friendships that can lead to introducing people to Jesus.
Celebration comes from the human spirit. As our spirit meets God’s Spirit we move from the head to our heart. It has been said that, “The more the Holy Spirit has of you the more you have of yourself.” We are trying to create a setting where we can more fully be ourselves. Jesus taught in Matthew 22:2 that the kingdom is like a wedding feast, a celebration, a party. It is a call for the child inside of us to be welcomed, to live in awe and wonder, and to have fun.
What does a Festival look like?
At an Open Crowd Festival, children are the stars. We celebrate, cheer, and make them feel special. But everyone belongs and everyone is welcome. We seek to create celebration everywhere—through music, balloons, clowns . . . anything that says “celebration”.
We make it a priority to keep everything free-of-charge for guests. That is true of God’s love so we keep generosity, kindness, and hospitality as our core values that express this love.
How does faith-sharing take place?
Often guests ask the organizing team why they are doing this. This is an opportunity for faith-sharing. Sometimes it is more intentional with a welcome team that is sharing faith as they talk to people on the edges of the festival.
Yet the reality is that these Festivals don’t change anything. Commitment does. You need to build a team of disciples at the heart of your Festival—people who love God, love each other, love their community, and are confident to reach out. We emphasize that it is the life of the team that builds the community. This is what happened in the early church. People were attracted by how much the believers loved one another.
Over the next 18 months (to the end of 2020) we are seeking to reach one million Japanese through Community Festivals in 500 communities across Japan. We have a goal that each of these 500 communities seeks to reach 2,000 people from within their community.
Local Japanese Festival teams, alongside 100 teams from across the world, will train and empower local churches across Japan. We will help them move into the heart of their community using the excitement generated by the Rugby World Cup, the Olympics, and the Paralympics.
Each overseas team coming will do online training and come into communities to work alongside local churches. More details are here: http://olympicsmission.com
Festivals are just the start of the invitation to connect with the church. For someone to be counted in the million people they need to be invited to participate in next steps.
Where can we hold a Festival?
Jesus in John 4 went to a well, the centre of that Samaritan community. That’s where we need to be. Whenever possible, run your festival at the centre of your community, e.g., public grounds, parks, or schools. If you can’t do this, then the front of your church may be a possibility.
Festivals in Japan
All cultures love celebration. Hence Japanese churches that run festivals are seeing new people come to church. Examples include Hongodai Christ Church, Shalom Sports Academy in Ibaraki, and the Church of the Good Samaritan Church near Osaka.
For example, Hongodai Christ Church in Yokohama has run Open Crowd Festivals for two years. The relationships are now strong enough to have someone sharing a testimony/story and inviting people to respond. We are looking this summer at following up three consecutive months of Festivals with a family-friendly church service in the park after a Festival and an invitation to a three-day Kids Holiday Club.
Commitment to reaching out
If you are interested, we have teams across Japan who can visit and train your church/mission organisation. We run training in the morning and early afternoon and then run a mini Festival so you get a taste of what it is. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t miss this moment!
Everything you need to run a Festival is available in Japanese at our website: http://opencrowdfestivaljapan.com
An overview in English of Community Festivals: https://readysetgo.world/en/resource/CommunityFestivalGuide
More videos and resources: https://readysetgo.world/en/library/readysetgo/811e8abd-5dc2-45fa-90f3-567dff1cf294
Photo supplied by author
Marty Woods heads a global Community Festival network operating in 80 countries. Marty and his wife Jenny left Australia after the Sydney Olympics, moving to Athens, Germany, London, Paris, and now Yokohama.